Troyle moved in to receive the attack.
He parried a downward slash with his left sword and thrust his right sword forward. The masked man swept his thrust away, spinning around to kick him in the chest.
Bracing himself, Troyle took the kick dead on, grunting at the impact and returning the kick with an elbow to the man’s leg, following it up with a sharp downward slice. The man quickly slammed down the extended leg, barely dodging the slash.
A cross-cut came at Troyle from both sides. Instead of blocking it, he quickly moved backwards to avoid it. The moment the man’s two swords crossed and passed each other, Troyle moved forth and aimed to cut into the man’s arm.
The man pulled back his elbows and caught Troyle’s sword with both of his own.
Locking the man’s arms together with the pressure of the attack, He thrust his left sword out, going for the stomach.
The man saw and easily avoided it by spinning to the side, slashing back during the spin.
Troyle swayed his upper body back, evading the slash while following the thrust with a knee into the man’s body, knocking the man back.
The man quickly recovered and flew at him with three consecutive sword strikes that forced him backwards a few steps.
““Troyle!”” The other guards yelled out, running over to back him up.
“Stay back!” He ordered the others. The men were capable against bandits, but someone of this caliber was beyond them.
“You’re not a bandit. Who are you?” He questioned the man again. In that brief exchange, he’d discern that the mystery man also fought using the Formless Blade Style. Yet, there was something familiar. Something he couldn’t pinpoint but could feel.
“And what makes you think that?” the masked man asked with a joyful tone.
“If you were, you’d have attacked us with the others. With your skills, you could have easily taken down a few of my friends in the chaos.” He spoke loud enough so that the guards knew what they were dealing against.
“That’s right, I am not a bandit.” The man answered.
He could see joy in the man’s eyes. “If you’re not with them, why attack me?”
“I told you already, I’m a challenger.” The man dashed at him once more.
“Guard the lord.” He told the others, stepping in to engage the man again.
The masked man came at him from a low angle, running with both swords poised at the left side. Troyle could see the next move.
Rising Talon: it was an attack that employed incredible movement speed followed by a precise upward slash. It was designed for quick dispatches and surprise attacks.
Troyle lowered his body.
In the instant the masked man’s sword began edging forward, he quickly sidestepped. With a different version of Rising Talon, his sword shot out at the masked man’s with blinding speed.
He saw the surprise on the man’s face as he severed the man’s sword, sending half of it flying away. Troyle’s other sword stopped at the man’s neck.
“Who are you, and who is your master? Why were you holding back? Talk or I put this through your neck.” He threatened.
“What are you talking about? You held back too.” The man answered with annoyance. “Liars, the lot of them.”
“Liars? What are you going on about?” Troyle edged his sword closer to the man’s throat.
The masked man held up his hands and dropped his swords.
“I am Vick Lavernus. My master is Geral Kartuh. I heard you two learned the Style together.” The man pulled off his mask and hood, revealing a man of under twenty. “I studied under his guidance for three years.”
“You are quite young…” Surprised, Troyle removed his sword from the young man’s neck. The name brought him back to his younger days with the mercenaries. He finally understood what it was: the young man fought like how Geral used to in their practice matches.
“Not as young as you when you made 17th chair.” The young man gave an awkward smile.
“You’re with the Droxxon Mercenaries?” Troyle inquired.
“19th chair, and currently owner of the two Azurite swords that were previously given to you.” Vick answered proudly.
The guards came up to them, listening to what was going on.
“I see, so they’ve been passed down…” A bittersweet feeling rushed through him. “Why weren’t you using them?”
“I figure you’d have noticed if I did, so I left them behind in Zuels.”
“… Well? Why are you here?”
“We’re the mercenary company hired by Thurllton to escort the representatives to see this signing through.” The young man replied with a wide smile.
“Why are YOU here?” Troyle clarified his question, gesturing around them.
“I overheard them,” Vick pointed to the dead bodies. “Talking about kidnapping the noble who was coming from Ferrent. On the way here, Dalzak told me you were the bodyguard of the lord who was coming. I’ve heard much about you from my master, and wanted to see for myself if you were half as good as my master proclaimed.” Hearing his own arrogance, “Half as good with one good arm of course…” Vick quickly corrected himself.
“You could have gone about this better. I could have killed you.” Troyle calmly stated his disapproval and glared at the young man.
If not for his curiosity in learning the masked assailant’s identity and the name of the master, he would have killed the foolish boy.
“Yea…” Vick replied in shame, removing his smile.
“Injured shoulder my ass…” he muttered under his breath.
Way past nightfall, their group of eleven plus three captured bandits, and a mischievous mercenary entered the proximity village of Zuels.
Kaidus returned home to the sound of unfamiliar voices.
Entering the house, he spotted an unknown face and a familiar one talking with Troyle in the living room. Noticing him, they turned to look in his direction.
“Kaidus, come here.” Troyle stood up and called him over.
The two men also stood up to greet him as he walked towards them.
“It’s good to see you again, uncle Dalzak.” He greeted the familiar man as he shook the man’s rough hand.
Although Dalzak had put on some weight and the man’s previous long curly brown hair is kept short now, Kaidus still remembered the delightful man who met them at the Crystal Wayfarer Inn—when they first arrived in Ferrent. Then, the man was slender and handsome, but now he was tall, rugged, and very muscular, giving an indisputable image of a hardened mercenary that’s prevailed through many life and death situations. A scar ran down the side of Dalzak’s cheek and a longer one down his right forearm.
Dalzak’s eyes shone with delight, seeing that the young boy remembered him. “The last time I saw you, I could have picked you up with my pinky finger. My words, how you’ve grown!” the man exclaimed happily.
“You remember Dalzak?” Troyle asked, astonished.
“Uncle has changed a lot, but his face remains very much like what I remember.”
“I see… That there is Vick Lavernus, also a member of the Droxxon mercenaries.” Troyle gestured to the man standing by Dalzak.
“Hi there, little man.” Vick gave him a cheerful smile.
“Hello.” Kaidus shook the man’s hand.
Vick was about Troyle’s height, but younger and sported a jolly face his build was of a slender build like how Dalzak used to be. The younger man had a head of dark green hair and wore simple clothes. If he didn’t know, he would never have guessed that the young man was a mercenary. There was also a chip scar on the forefront of his chin.
“Vick is quite skilled with the sword, and also a student of the Formless Blade Style.” Troyle further supplemented.
Beside the two chairs where the guests are sitting stood three swords. Two sheathed swords with familiar looking hilts, and a longsword.
“Where are mom and Anise?” Kaidus asked, taking a seat by his father.
“Out to get more ingredients for dinner.” Troyle replied.
“Your father tells me you’re a mage?” Dalzak questioned with a proud smile.
It wasn’t until their meeting a couple days ago in Zuels that Dalzak learned of it. Even though they’ve kept in touch by letters the past couple of years, there was never any mention about Kaidus being a mage. Dalzak had his own speculations after his first meeting with the boy, but it was an unproven assumption and one he quickly forgot.
“I’m currently attending Zorin academy at the moment.” Kaidus answered without hiding it, shooting a curious glance at Troyle.
“I told them about my shoulder.” Troyle smiled.
It was after all the official business was finished that they caught up with each other. Hearing about how he defeated Vick, Dalzak cornered him with questions that lead to the revelation.
He invited some of the mercenaries to come visit him in Ferrent, but many had to escort the delegates back to Thurllton with the contract, so Dalzak and Vick came in place for everyone. Not wanting to impose, the two are staying at a nearby inn while sorting out some guild business in Ferrent.
“Zorin huh? I hear that place is for the elites. You must be quite the little mage yourself.” Dalzak praised.
“No, I’m just barely getting by.” Kaidus replied.
“Modest, and nothing like your cocky father. I knew you’d grow up to be a better person than your old man.” Dalzak directed a wide grin at Troyle.
“That’s all in the past Dalz. I was young and blessed with uncanny skills.” Troyle defended himself.
Dalzak laughed. “From the look of it, so is your son. Yet there’s a very big difference.”
“Guh… Enough about the past.” A discomfited Troyle tried to halt the topic.
“Did you know? Not ten days after we joined the mercenaries, your dad challenged our team captain to a match after an argument. He got beaten to a pulp and spent the night groaning in pain while our team laughed.” Dalzak started laughing profusely. “Let’s see… what was it you said at the time? ‘Weaklings shouldn’t be leading’? Hahahaha!”
Kaidus chuckled at the story. He didn’t know much about Troyle’s childhood besides what Adalina knew, so the story was new to him.
“She held nothing back. I was literally crawling the next day.” Troyle added to the story, laughing along.
Kaidus asked some more about his father’s earlier years—before Adalina. Dalzak happily obliged at the chance to recount old memories.
“Since he’s a mage, are you planning to teach Kaidus the sword?” Vick enquired after their story session was over.
“I have been teaching him,” Troyle answered with a sly grin. “For the past turn, he’s been learning the Formless Blade Style.”
“You never told us you were teaching him the sword.” Dalzak spoke, bringing forth an issue.
“You never asked. I wanted to surprise the company after I’ve taught him everything so I kept my mouth shut about it, but you both just assumed I wasn’t because he’s a mage.”
“I guess that was my own fault.” Dalzak admitted his mistake. A smile surfaced on his face after realizing something in Troyle’s words. “Does that mean you were planning to bring him to see the captain one of these days?”
“Adalina and I have been talking about visiting her parents in Nultulk. I was thinking about bringing the whole family to see you all in a couple years on our way.”
“Really? I’m sure the captain would like that.” Dalzak replied warmly. “Ah, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we take Kaidus back with us now? You’re working as a bodyguard so you can’t teach him like you want. I’m sure the Captain would like to see him and teach him swordsmanship. Geral can also help supplement whatever you’ve taught him, and you guys can pick him up on your way to Nultulk.” Dalzak suggested with a lighthearted tone.
Kaidus perked up.
“Adalina would kill me, and Anise will cry her tiny heart out if her brother leaves. Not to mention he still has school.” Troyle rejected with a grin.
“Look at you making excuses to dote on your son.” Dalzak laughed.
Soon after, Anise and Adalina returned. He joined his mother to help prepare dinner while Troyle entertained the guests with Anise.
“Have you got your business sorted out?” Adalina questioned while they were eating dinner.
“Not yet. I’d say another four days or so before we are done.” Dalzak replied, shoveling food into his mouth.
“Four days? Are you two leaving after that?”
“As much as living a life of luxury entices me, freedom of the outside is what I yearn for.” Dalzak grinned.
“Can’t you both stay a little longer? It’s been so long since we all saw each other.”
“We would love to, but we can’t. Two others were supposed to come here for the recruitment after Zuels, but Vick and I took the liberty of doing so. I’m not sure how we’ll face the Captain’s wrath, but it was great seeing you both again and your children.” Dalzak gave a shrewd grin. Vick laughed, imagining what they’d be going back to.
Kaidus ate silently, organizing his thoughts.
Two days later, and what Dalzak said was still on his mind. He spent a great deal thinking about the suggestion, weighing his options of: staying here in Ferrent, or asking Troyle and Adalina if he could go with Dalzak and Vick.
The mercenaries had a lot of knowledge to offer, and he could learn many things from them as Adalina and Troyle did. He would need such skills when he ventures off on his own. There was also Captain Zikale whom both Troyle and Adalina deeply respected.
Kaidus thought about the academy.
He was nowhere near finishing all the books in the library, but he did accomplish what he set out to do, which was to find clues about the past. He already has a destination to further his search, and it did not matter to him whether he remained a student or leave the school. All that’s left is to wait for a good opportunity to leave Darsus without worrying his parents.
Even the threat of Tal’hrus seemed to have simmered down. He did not know if they would return, but if they did, Hasen would be here to protect his family.
Also looking at his family situation, Lord Varath is a powerful friend that Troyle could rely on should anything happen within Ferrent. If worst comes to worst, there is always Hasen.
He contemplated the decisions and weighed the different outcomes. There was no clear path to take, but he was sure about one thing: he would have to leave sooner or later.
That night after supper.
“Mom, dad, I want to ask you both something.” Kaidus spoke, folding the book he was reading.
His mind was made up.
“What is it?” Troyle questioned from the chair beside him.
“Kaidus?” Adalina who was playing a teaching game with Anise stopped and gave him an inquisitive look
“Would it be alright if I went with uncle Dalzak and Vick?”
Troyle blankly stared at him while Adalina’s face made a troubled expression.
“What brought this on?” Troyle composed himself and asked. “Is this because of what Dalzak said the other day?”
“A little. I’ve been thinking, and I want to take them up on the offer if they would have me.”
In his heart he did not want to part from his family, but everything is preparation for the day when he leaves them to pursue his own goals.
“You’re only nine, and you’re still going to school. The life of a mercenary is not for a young boy like you.” Adalina spoke apprehensively.
“Your mother is right. You do still have school,” Troyle reinforced Adalina’s words. “And why do you want to go with Dalzak and Vick? Are you planning to join the mercenaries?” Troyle queried.
Anise looked over at him with a look of confusion.
“No, I was hoping to learn from them. To see for myself, and experience what I’ve only ever read about in books.”
“Honey, can’t it wait a couple more years until you’re done with school?” Adalina pleaded.
“Mom, I’m sorry but I haven’t been completely honest with you both… I was afraid you all would see me as… as something else…” Kaidus lowered his head in shame at having lied to them.
“Kaidus?” His mother looked worried.
“Whatever you are hiding, know that we will stand beside you all the way.” Troyle replied. His voice filled with conviction.
“…The problem is, the academy has nothing it can do for me. I am already beyond what they can teach.” He confessed one of the secrets he’d been hiding from them for the past year and a half. “You’ve both seen what I can do… and that is but a fraction of what I am truly capable of.”
“Beyond what they can teach? A fraction?” Troyle questioned with a puzzled face.
“Come out, Hasen. Zion.” Words of command left his mouth.
Within the living room, a breeze began blowing and coiling about the four of them. From Anise’s necklace, a dark smoke slowly emerged. Not scattered by the wind, the smoke merged into a dark cloud and moved beside Kaidus.
The look of shock and surprise were visible on both Troyle and Adalina’s face. Anise on the other hand was looking around with excitement, putting her hands out to feel the wind.
“Master…” The dark cloud formed into a featureless figure and kneeled.
“Massssterrrr.” The wind swirled about, converging upon the hand that he held up.
“This is what I am…” He spoke with a hint of fear in his voice, staring at the endless wind around his hand—not daring to look at his parents.
“What are they?” Troyle questioned.
Adalina held a hand to her breast, breathing with relief.
“Yah!” Anise ran over, putting her hands through the smoky figure.
“?” He turned to look at them. He was confused.
Adalina approached and hugged him. “For a moment there I thought you were going to shed your skin or grown horns.” She chuckled, embracing him tightly. “You know, from the moment you were born, I’ve known you were different. There is nothing you can do in this world that could ever make me see you as anything else other than my responsible little boy. Also, if you did shed your skin or sprout horns, we’d still love you.” She smiled.
“Mom…” He had no other words. The woman in front of him truly meant everything she said.
“Daddy look!” Anise walked halfway into Hasen’s smoky body, grinning happily.
“What are they?” Troyle asked again, looking at the figure of smoke and the wind around them.
“They’re my familiars.” Kaidus replied.
“Is this what killed that creature and all those korgas?” Troyle asked, remembering the darkness that was consuming everything half a year ago.
“Y-Yea. Hasen, greet my family.”
“Greetings…” The cloud shifted hazily and the raspy voice came out once again.
“This is Zion.” He willed the wind into his hand. Troyle’s eyes widened, seeing the miniature tempest raging on his palm.
“You’re not scared?” Kaidus asked nervously.
“Should we be?” Troyle questioned, looking at him tenderly.
“No…” Kaidus lowered his head as tears trickled down his cheeks. Seeing the accepting reaction from his family, he cried in front of his parents for the first time ever since being able to walk.
Adalina slowly stroked his head, comforting him.
Seeing him cry, Anise also came over, reaching up to try and pat his head.
The warmth of acceptance, the love of family.
The pain of impending loneliness vanished, replaced by joy.
Here was a place he could always return to. Here was a place where the darkness inside of him is nonexistent.
“You know,” Troyle spoke. “Your mother and I will miss you if you leave. Anise will miss you the most. How about waiting until next year? We’ll all go visit your grandparents, and on the way back if you still want to, you can stay with the mercenaries. Join them or just stay and learn from them, it’s up to you.”
“What are you saying Troyle? He’s just a-”
“He’s a strong boy, Adalina. If he doesn’t need the school, think of how many lives he can save just by being in the mercenary camp. You’ve seen the results from many of the jobs, you should understand that his healing abilities could mean the difference between life and death.” Troyle spoke solemnly, having realized that his son was more than capable.
With the two powerful looking familiars by his son, he saw no problem with the boy’s request. A year would allow him to teach the boy everything he knows, and it would give Adalina and Anise plenty of time to come to terms with their parting. He loved his son, but he knew that all boys grow up to leave home. He just didn’t realize it would be so soon.
Adalina knelt down and tightly embraced her son again, not wanting to let him go.